Welcome to day 12 of our advent series. Today, we'll look at enshittification in the context of social networks.
First, let’s recap Cory Doctorow’s definition:
It’s really interesting to apply this to social networks because they often market themselves as forces for social good but anyone using social networks will have noticed similar changes over the last decade.
Let's start with Facebook. It started out as an innovative way to connect with friends and family, share photos, and even meet new people. But from 2006 onwards, your news feed became less focused on people you knew and more clogged with posts from media companies, advertising, and political content. By making users feel angry, insecure, and addicted, they could increase their advertising revenue.
After about a decade of this, they started squeezing the advertisers too: increasing costs for running ads on the platform, changing their feed algorithm to reduce organic reach, and forcing businesses to spend more on paid promotions.
If you’re still not sure about whether Facebook is a force for social good, check out Harvard University's response to Dr. Joan Donovan’s research on Facebook. Following a significant donation from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Harvard reportedly suppressed Donovan's critical examination of Facebook's societal impact. This silencing of academic research highlights the extent to which Facebook's influence extends beyond its platform, contributing to broader societal issues.
And how about Twitter?
Twitter’s enshittification under Elon Musk has been a bit more sudden and dramatic. Users who opted not to pay for Twitter Blue found that their replies appeared underneath those who had, and the massive price hike for API access killed off tools which interacted with your Twitter account, along with academics or nonprofits who used Twitter data to conduct research.
On the other side, firing the misinformation, human rights and moderation teams, and unconditionally promoting posts from Blue users has made Twitter overwhelmingly unappealing for companies like Apple, Disney and Sony who need to create positive associations with their brands. Musk responded by telling them to 'Go fuck themselves' (which is objectively very funny), and the valuation of Twitter has dropped by about two thirds since his purchase last year.
Social media companies often describe themselves in ways that tie into 'Tech for Good' marketing strategies. Their branding focuses on bringing people together, creating fun experiences, and staying up to date, but their societal impact is addiction, deepened political divide, and compromised democracies.